Essential Items to have or to bring to Japan
Slip-on comfortable shoes or sneakers
In many countries in the world, it may be normal to wear shoes indoors, especially in places like restaurants and bars, but whether you are travelling in Japan for a short amount of time or living in Japan for a while, you will most definitely find that you need to quickly take off your shoes before entering a building.
In most traditional Japanese buildings, such as onsen (hot spring) resorts, ryokan, temples, castles and common houses, the front entranceway is lower than the rest of the space inside. This area is called a genkan, and is the place where you need to take your shoes off and possibly change to slippers.
This tradition is carried on into the modern day, not just in traditional buildings and any building where there is tatami matting, but also in some restaurants and izakaya in the most modern parts of the country.
Moreover, all types of accommodation in Japan, including hotels, apartment buildings, dormitories, single room apartments, and houses, have genkan, so we recommend comfortable footwear from day 1 that you can take off and put on easily without needing to do laces.
Easy-access card case
Virtually every Japanese transportation system in Japan is conveniently accessible with the tap of a card, which in Japan is known as an IC Card, including all trains, trams, and buses, not to mention most vending machines and coin lockers.
With trains being the most common method of transportation in Japan between regions and within cities, and given that the fare for trains in Japan is calculated by distance intervals, paying by card is by far the most convenient method as your fare is calculated instantaneously with a simple tap on and off. Without an IC Card, you will otherwise need to pay
Therefore, because you will most likely be using your IC Card every day, we recommend an easy access and secure card case that helps you get your card in a flash, allows you to tap while the card is still in the case without possible interference with other cards, and also helps to prevent loss of the card by having a defined place where you keep it
Appropriate clothing for the weather
This might seem great advice for everyone going anywhere in the world, however it is worth mentioning for Japan specifically given that Japan experiences four seasons year-round on its many islands, given that Japan runs north and south resulting in varied climates throughout, and given that Japan is mountainous, surrounded by ocean and prone to a lot of rain.
With summers that are hot and humid, winters that are considerably cold, and springs with endless rain, it is recommended to have some functional wear you can depend on, including: rain coat, water resistant backpack, water-resistant boots or shoes, a medium-thick scarf, light sweaters, and thermal pants and shirts.
The key is layers. You will likely find yourself wanting to adjust your clothes a couple times a day regardless of the season.
Cash & Credit card
Despite our very accurate image of Japan as a high-tech society with high speed trains, neon-lit signs and billboards, customer service robots, and automatic bicycle and car parking systems, Japan is still, surprisingly a cash-based society.
For this reason, you will want to have a good amount of cash for when you land on day 1 to get you started, and to know where you can get cash thereafter if you are using an international credit or debit card, which you will need to do often given that essentially you will always need to have cash on you.
If you are feeling nervous about carrying cash with you, it is reassuring to know that theft in Japan is very rare. There are countless cases of people’s wallets containing visible cash being lost but recovered intact with nothing missing from it, having been returned by someone to a nearby koban, which are small police stations in virtually every district of the city.
Adaptor and portable battery
It goes without saying that you will want to get an adaptor to use power in Japan. The plugs used in Japan are the same as those in the US and Canada, minus the third ground prong. In order to minimize the amount of adaptors you need, one possibility is to buy a power bar or surge protector in your country and at least one adaptor so you can convert it all at the same time.
In case you are bringing other electronics and appliances from your home country to Japan, note that the standard voltage in Japan is 100V, which is significantly lower than most other countries, and as such, you are less likely to blow out your domestic goods. Instead, there are cases that your electronics may operate or charge slightly slower than they would in your home country.
Cafes and establishments in Japan are less likely to have wifi compared to other countries, and similarly outlets can be a little hard to find. Given that you will likely use your phone more in Japan for things like navigation, translation and hotspotting yourself wifi, it is recommended that you buy a portable battery or power bank either in your home country or here in Japan.
A suit or formal wear
Whether you are coming to Japan for study or for work, Japan can be quite a formal place, where suits are a very commonly-worn type of attire if not on a regular basis, than on specific occasions that are for most of us unavoidable.
For students, you are most likely going to be required to wear suits at your opening ceremony, graduation ceremony, and formal social gatherings organised by the school. For professionals, suits are likely the dress code for initial interviews, even if the job doesn’t require you to wear suits on a daily basis thereafter. Additionally, if there is an activity involving staff from other businesses or customers, there is a high likeliness it will require a suit, including sales, customer relations, networking events, and other special or formal gatherings.
Useful apps to have
Despite the growing number of Japanese people in Japan who can speak Japanese and the efforts of the government to make Japan an ever-global nation with citizen that can speak English as well, it might be very surprising that in the most central part of the busiest metropolis, you will naturally encounter many people or customer service staff who struggle to be able to communicate in English.
A translator app like Google Translate will be your friend when living in Japan, especially as it comes to reading large bodies of words at once, and comes with the option to view the text in romaji, the romanized version of the Japanese, unlike many other translator apps that only offer translations for one word or phrase at a time. The ability to read the romaji comes in useful for studying Japanese, as you can begin to recognize the kanji, and connect it with its meaning and pronunciation.
In addition, the apps camera feature can help you when you need to read kanji, the chinese-based alphabet system that doesn’t lend itself to being read at all if you don’t know the character already.
If you have Japanese friends you will likely already have this app, but for those who are merely anticipating to meet Japanese people, LINE is the most commonly used method of instant messaging between friends and also for work.
In addition to instant messaging, LINE allows you to make phone calls, establish conversations between multiple contacts, and create a group, send pictures & videos directly or by creating a shared album, and create a note which anyone in the conversation can reference, separately to the conversation stream.
The Guide to Living in Japan Series
Whether you are thinking about moving to Japan, are already living in Japan, or are just curious about what is life like in Japan for Non-Japanese people, the Guide to Living in Japan aims to be as thorough as possible about what to expect and what to prepare for when living in Japanese society from a mostly western perspective.
Should you have any questions or comments while reading through, please contact us. We aim to continually update and improve this resource for everyone.
Read more articles in the Guide to Living in Japan: